Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Curt Palmer appeared before the County Council on Thursday evening to discuss a funding issue with the Court Appointed Child Advocate (CASA) program.

The CASA program provides volunteers who are everyday people – teachers, business people, retirees, stay-at-home moms, and grandparents.   They are committed to making a difference for children who might otherwise slip through the cracks in an overburdened foster care system. They are appointed by judges to guide one child or one set of siblings through the system to safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. CASA volunteers research case records and speak to each person involved in a child’s life, including family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and social workers. They monitor the progress of the child and family throughout the case and advocate for the child’s current and future needs in court, in school, and in agency meetings. Their independent evaluations allow the court to make better-informed decisions.

The CASA program started in the early 2000s in Marshall County.   Judge Palmer said fewer counties were involved so they each got a good amount of funding and what they didn’t use they were able to bank. 

State grant funds have been all over the place, $13,244 in 2018; $32,215 in 2020, and $16,292 in 2022.  This year Marshall County received $14,122 but next year the grant funding will be dramatically lower at $4,327.  Judge Palmer said they have been using the banked funds they’ve had on hand, but those funds will run out next year.   The judge said the county match for the grant is 80% or $3,678 bringing the total revenue up to $8,005 while the program expenses will be $55,000.  Palmer told the council he will need their support in the amount of $44,000 for the 2024 budget. 

Judge Palmer said the huge reduction came from the reduced number of children receiving services.  The average annual number of children receiving services in Marshall County has been 45 but last year that number dropped to 17.  The drop in part was because the Marshall County Drug Task Force has not been active since most departments are having issues keeping a full staff of officers.  Many of the children in foster care were from families where the parents were arrested for drug usage. 

Council President Jesse Bohannon suggested using Community Correction funds to support the additional funding need.   Councilman Will Paterson suggested using ARPA funds. 

The County Council will begin looking for a solution now so that when the budgeting process begins later this summer, they will have an answer.  They also permitted Judge Palmer to apply for the CASA Grant.